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Sri Lanka grants another port deal to China in Colombo

Beijing scores again in Sino-Indian ‘game of ports’

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Chinese construction worker stands on land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for Port of Columbo. 

Chinese construction worker stands on land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for Port of Columbo.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Sri Lanka has decided to grant a Chinese company a contract for a port project it had previously awarded to India and Japan.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said this is a sign Sri Lanka remains "neutral" in its dealings between New Delhi and Beijing, according to a Nikkei report.

Rajapaksa’s cabinet finalized plans on Tuesday (Nov. 23) to bring Chinese state-run China Harbor Engineering on board to build the Eastern Container Terminal. The supposed balancing act comes several weeks after the Rajapaksa administration granted Indian conglomerate Adani Group a contract to build out the West Container Terminal at the Port of Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s government was quick to add that local authorities would operate the port after construction was complete.

In 2019, Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka’s president at the time, signed a memorandum of understanding with Japan and India to jointly build out the terminal. Yet his pro-Beijing successor Rajapaksa flipped things around in February when his cabinet announced the port’s operations would be wholly owned by Sri Lanka it had had a majority stake in the original deal kicking Japan and India out of the deal altogether.

Port deals are becoming an increasingly tense game of influence between India and China since a Chinese state-owned company took over the Hambantota Port, which sits at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, in 2017.

Adani’s winning of the western terminal contract was hailed as a game-changer for India by South Asian affairs analyst Chulanee Attanayake. Yet the news that the eastern terminal has now been granted to China is a stark reminder of the depth of Beijing’s influence in Sri Lankan politics.